Best of Viva Survivors 2020: Surviving

2020 hasn’t been an easy year, has it? 2021 feels like it’s going to be tough too.

There are still challenges and changes ahead of us all. As with the viva, to begin with, we’re called to survive – which means “manage to keep going in difficult circumstances“. 

  • Interesting Times – I wrote this post on March 16th, before the first lockdown in the UK, but after we had started our own family lockdown. This was an extra post for that day, written out of a need to share something.
  • New Expectations? – the viva is all online now, for now at least. That doesn’t mean that it’s bad, but it’s different.
  • No Hurry, No Pause – not a post explicitly on surviving, but the linked resource resonates, as do some of the questions which are mentioned.
  • Fortunate Positions – I share a story that explores both why and how people survive in the viva…
  • By The Numbers – …and some questions to explore that idea a little more.
  • Is Survival Enough? – a question I’ve been reflecting on a lot lately.

Surviving might be uncomfortable sometimes. It might be at odds with your preferences or skillset. But there are reasons you’ve got this far; reasons that have helped you through these difficult circumstances. Remember them and keep going.

Best of Viva Survivors 2020: Short Posts

We head towards the end of the year with today’s look back at some of the shortest posts I’ve written and published in 2020.

Short posts are fun to write. Sometimes they come from a great big idea that I can express concisely, sometimes I realise that fifty words is simply enough. I’ll be thinking a lot in the coming months about shorter posts, and maybe some way to share a collection of them.

Tomorrow we finish the review of the year’s posts with a topic that has been on my mind a lot: surviving.

Best of Viva Survivors 2020: Long Posts

We continue the review of this year’s 350+ blog posts by exploring a handful of the longer posts I’ve written. Most days, the posts are between 150 and 200 words, but occasionally I go into greater depth or length on a point!

Brevity is good, but I really like having the space to reflect sometimes. Have you read any other long posts on the blog that you liked?

Tomorrow: we get back to keeping things brief, and I share the best of my short posts from this year!

Best of Viva Survivors 2020: Viva Prep

Every year on the blog I finish by sharing a few days of my favourite posts from the year. We start 2020’s round-up with the important topic of viva preparation, and posts that cover many different aspects of getting ready for the viva.

What will you be doing to get ready for your viva? And have you read any other helpful posts on the topic on Viva Survivors, or elsewhere, that you could share with someone who needed help?

Tomorrow: the best of my long posts from this year!

Happy Christmas!

Very best wishes from my family to you and yours, wherever you are. I hope you take a break in the coming weeks, rest, relax, recover a little. I plan to!

Viva Survivors is on a break now for a few days; service resumes with four “Best of 2020” days from Monday 28th December 2020. These list posts from the year that I think are particularly good. From Friday 1st January 2021 we’ll be back to regular new posts every day.

You can catch up on any or all of those later though. For now, rest. If your viva is coming up in January, it can wait for now. It really can. Take a little time for you and your loved ones.

Happy Christmas!


What will you do when you pass your viva?

Who will you tell first?

On that day, maybe that evening, after the first thrill has passed, what will you do to mark the occasion?

(it may be that you have to get a little creative of course, depending on when you have your viva…)

Once you have these images of celebration and success in mind, use them to motivate you. Use them to persuade yourself that you’re on track. Use them to boost your confidence or commitment to getting ready.

And use them to make your imagined celebrations real, when the time comes.

That One Question

That one question you know you’ll struggle with.

It might be a rational concern or an irrational worry, but either way, you can do something about it. Whatever the question is about, if you know it troubles you before the viva then you can do something to prepare for it.

  • Read something.
  • Write something.
  • Think something.
  • Ask someone.
  • Make some notes.
  • Check a journal.
  • Write a response to reflect on.

If there’s a question that bothers you before the viva, then you can do something just in case it comes up.

“That’s Interesting”

Two words, spoken by my internal examiner, as we approached the end of my viva.

Two words that came after he had summarised my final chapter.

Two words that followed a summary of “In Chapter 7 you detail your failure at solving a problem.”

“That’s interesting.”

Two words that seemed as if they were followed by a yawning void of time as I tried to understand what he meant.

Two words that I realised were not, in fact, a question.

Two words that were a simple comment, an observation.

Two words that I responded to by saying why I had felt it important to include preliminary results, why it still might help someone.

Two words from him, two minutes of talking from me and then a simple response of “OK” afterwards.


Two words or two sentences or two minutes of talking from either of your two examiners could make your heart skip a beat as you wonder what was meant and ponder what to say.

Take a breath, think, try to understand. What do they mean? Then respond.

Sometimes a simple comment is simply a comment: you don’t need to say much in response at all.

Three Nervous People

In your viva, you don’t necessarily have a monopoly on recognising that it isn’t a typical day.

You: I did this work, but it’s important and I want this to go well, and I wonder what they’ll ask me first…

Your Internal Examiner: have I forgot anything? I hope I’ve made a note of everything, I do so want this to go well…

Your External Examiner: I hope the candidate isn’t too nervous, they’ve nothing to worry about, I really want this to go well for them…

Some vivas have independent chairs too. Some candidates invite a supervisor to observe. But all vivas have at least three talented, hard-working, prepared people in them. People who could all be a little nervous at the start about this exam that they want to go well.

Final Touches

A lot of universities (at least in the UK) will be closing for the holidays today. As a postgraduate researcher, a university being officially closed won’t mean that the work has to stop for you. There’s always more thinking, more reading, more catching up-

-but there’s also a need for rest. A need for a break. A need to put work and research to one side and gather yourself up for what will most probably be a challenging 2021.

If you’re submitting in the first few months of next year, or have your viva some time in that period – or if you’re still somewhere in the middle of your PhD – take a little time today or tomorrow just to leave yourself in a good place for when you come back to things in the new year. Leave a few notes for what you need to do next. What’s your priority when you start back? The first thing you have to do? Who’s the first person you’ll need to get in touch with or reach out to?

And leave yourself a message. Thank yourself. Boost yourself. Remind yourself.

You’ve got this far; you can do it.

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